This Beats Leaning In to Get Ahead as an Executive Assistant

At the beginning of last year we interviewed Melba Duncan, CEO at the Duncan Group, about managing up and how four simple steps can majorly improve your productivity as an executive assistant and drive the business forward.

Turns out you LOVED the insights (it was one of our most popular articles!) and we figured it’d be worth a revisit to see how you’re managing to manage up.

First, a refresher.

Managing up is based on learning how to manage one’s manager to the mutual benefit of you and your exec. For our visual learners, quick infographic here. This aligns you with success for several reasons. It allows you to more effectively manage your executive’s time, better anticipate needs, establish open lines of communication and accelerate the business.

Here’s what it takes:

1. Know your boss

This is where those Insta-stalking skills come in handy. Investigate, investigate, investigate. The more you know about the inner workings of your executive, the better you will be at your job.

“Observation […] and your ability to read the moment […] is essential,” says Duncan. “Get to know every emotion, every look, […] what they wear; everything. That will tell you what they are thinking and how they are feeling. ”

Also, don’t be afraid to Brené Brown it. Brave vulnerability and ask them some important questions.

Talk goals. What do they want to accomplish professionally? Personally?

What’s their mission with the company? How do they plan on achieving that?

What’s their preferred method of communication?

Understand where your exec stands in the company. Are they well liked? What relationships are important to them?

As Duncan explains, “Be intellectually invested in making sure you understand what’s important to that executive at any given moment.”

2. Connect your actions to your exec’s professional goals

Think of this as a “help me help you” approach. When it comes time for you to ask something of your exec–say, an approval on a request, opportunity for continued education or more access–you can create a win-win by showing how your request benefits your exec and his/her professional goals.

Duncan suggests using this script: “In order for me to be able to save you time and to be more effective in what I do to assist you every day, I must have available to me [insert request].”

What if that request is denied?

Get creative! Go back to step 1 and find another reason why your request would help your exec be who they want to be. “If someone says no to something you asked, then you need to find an alternative,” says Duncan. “Rejection is based on empathy. If someone tells you no, find another way. Never accept a non-answer.”

3. Help your exec with their weaknesses by being a helpful resource

First things first, erase the word “weakness” from your vocabulary.

“Think of them as areas of development,” clarifies Duncan. Aka, those things your boss does or doesn’t do that are majorly eye-roll-worthy.

Let’s take being awful at responding to emails, for example. (Raise your hand if you deal with this daily? *hand raised*)

Start by turning it around on you.

“Never say, look, I noticed you aren’t good at emails,” Duncan explains. “Never tell someone what they aren’t good at. Tell them why you are there and that you can find the solutions to what they are encountering. That’s your role. It’s helping them be more effective with the talent that you have.”

Instead, Duncan says to try this: “I have some time. Would you like me respond to some of your emails to clear out your inbox?”

Or find their preferred method of communication and instead communicate that way to minimize the amount you rely on email.

Or, while your exec is taking a while to respond, work on another project in the interim.

Overall, Duncan points out, “You want them to know that you notice, you care and you are there to help. It builds trust.”

4. Share your strengths with your exec

Don’t shy away from some shameless self-promotion. Your exec cannot read your mind, so unless you’re shouting your skill set from the rooftops, they’ll never know just how fierce of an EA they have on their team.

“Assistants have a real opportunity to speak about their performance competencies,” says Duncan. “Tell them what you do well. [Express] what it is that you are able to do to save that executive time.”

By stating the talents that you have to offer, you’re once again helping to minimize your executive’s workload AND you’re stepping up to become more visible as a leader in the business.

“When you show what your strengths are, they become magnified,” Duncan explains. “Be prepared. You are now accepting additional responsibilities.”

Time to wear the crown, quEAn.

5. How’s managing up working out for you?

Have you tried any of the above tactics? Were they harder or easier than you expected? What would you do differently?

Tell us in the comments!

Want more career-advancing goodness like this? Check out our live ELS Forum events, coming to a city near you soon! We bring the best experts in the EA biz to share the tools, action plans and key knowledge you need to take you and your career to the next level. Plus, you’ll connect with other amazing EAs AND have a blast!